prose

Robert Međurečan: from the novel "Slightly used medals for sale"

Robert Međurečan (b. 1969) - veterinary school dropout (will never finish), former soldier (definitely never again), musician and singer (more and more). He says he's a real Balkan homo universalis – he knows all the things he never went to school for. His first novel For Sale: War Medals, First Owner (2008) entered the shortlists for the main national book prizes (Jutarnji list, Tportal, the MH prize, the HPB prize). The novel Silence of the lambs in Zdihovo (2011) was on the long list for the Jutarnji and Tportal awards. His third novel, with the working title Galloping Birds will be published late this year, as a sort of conclusion to the "war trilogy".



from the novel "Slightly used medals for sale"

 

(...)

 

Suddenly, as they began, the detonations stop. An unreal silence reigned, and then the cries were heard. Viktor raised himself from the trench, shaking off the heavy dirt cover. He feels his body with trembling hands looking for wounds. Nothing. Just blood flowing from the ears. From the detonations. Nothing hurt him. He cautiously came out of the trench and looked for survivors. Soon some other heads appeared out of the other trenches, but the cries are also multiplying. Viktor ran towards Drago's trench. He's sitting and holding his stomach with bloody hands. Blood flows between fingers and rags, mixes with the soil into bloody mud. Belly torn apart by shrapnel. The bloody rags are actually his guts, Oddly, he's conscious, looking through Viktor with a dull gaze.

"Fuck it, buddy... Friday, the thirteenth... - he whispered and expired.

 

(...)

 

- Where do I start... - Viktor whispered, cleared his throat and continued on more determined. - So, my problem is from the war. War couldn't have passed me by because I was young and wild, jacked up. I even started to like it all...

One night we went over to the Serbian lines and set an ambush. The spot was perfect: the dirt road cut through the woods, the sides gently rising up a hill, ideal for an ambush. We knew one of their units would go by there, all you had to do was lie in wait. In the moonlight, we saw them coming from far away. There were about twenty of them... - Viktor's voice trembled and became more quiet. - At the signal, we opened fire. Cut them down like grass, it was horrible to look at... Miraculously one of them was left standing, alive, untouched in that hail of bullets. He stood there paralysed with fear. I came out of cover and went down to the road, the others were still in their positions. The survivor stared at me in terror like I was the Devil himself., he gripped his rifle with trembling hands and then dropped it to the ground. I approached him a couple of feet away. I got a good look at his face, and he looked at me stiffly. He was very young. I pointed my assault rifle at him. He didn't budge, just kept staring. I let out a burst. He fell without a sound.

Viktor was quiet. He took out a worn out ID card from his pocket and stuck it in the priest's hand.

- Nenad Simić... born in 1975. - the priest read the faded letters.

There was a brown stain beneath the photo - the papir soaked in blood.

- Barely seventeen years old. They stuck a rifle in his hands and put him in front of my sights.

- The Lord forgives those who kill in self-defense. All these men on the other side were armed, were they not? They could have killed you.

- Yes, but he wouldn't have taken the shot.

- How do you know?

- I know. His rifle wasn't loaded.

- Maybe he was out of ammo.

. Oh, he had ammo to spare, but he carried an unloaded rifle.

(...)

His first visit to the shrink was forced. At a Christmas party he beat the shit out of a guy who was bragging to women about his war exploits. Viktor could tell by his stories that the guy never held a rifle in his life. The babbling offended him. He remembered Gramps and Siniša and the boys who'd died. He remembered Nenad Simić... He instantly went dark. The cops came just in time.

He assaulted the cops, too. Ended up in Vrapče. The date of the unfortunate event: December, the thirteenth. Exactly a year after the defeat on the river Kupa... In the medical papers it said: "reminiscient circumstances reactivated the memory. Typical anniversary reaction". There it was officially confirmed what Viktor already knew. He had PTSD.

- Don't worry about treatment - Davor Tot, his bunkmate, comforted him. - Here they shoot us up with one set of drugs until we're hooked, then we get off them by getting hooked on other drugs. And so it goes until we go bonkers.

When the doctor asked Tot why he wanted to blow himself up with a bomb, he answered briefly:

- Because I'm in an elevator.

- What kind of elevator?

- Narrow one. Can barely fit inside. And the elevator is in a commercial building. And it's Friday night, and everyone's away until Monday. I'm the last one. I go down and then the power goes out. Darkness. The walls of the elevator are closing in. I get panicked, I bang on the door, I scream, but in vain. My screams get lost in the deserted hallways. Monday is far off. The darkness turns to jelly, gets in my nostrils, my mouth. It chokes me. I scream, I bang the walls until my hands bleed... I scream, and the walls crush me. Darkness slides down by throat, goes through me. And it's a whole eternity until Monday...

Viktor never heard a better description of the way he himself felt.

- You're all a bunch of fakers - Kruno the Slavonian would yell back then, when there were no doctors around - I don't have that four letter syndrome. It doesn't exist. It was made up by the doctors just to keep me here.

- And throwing a potato masher grenade at the cops?

- I was framed by the Serbs, the motherfuckers. And you're helping them. You're one big fifth column. I'm the only one with the balls to tell the truth around here. I don't need any pills, I don't want them taking pictures of my brain, I don't want a binder full of faked reports. I'm healthy. I want to go home.

On New Year's Eve, Kruno the Slavonian blew himself up with a grenade in the park in front of the hospital. Because of his wife. She filed for divorce.

Viktor was terrified that Olga would come too and say, I've had it with you, I'm leaving until you ruin my life completely.

In the Fall of Ninety-Two, Viktor wanted to deal with himself. He slit his wrists with a razor blade and lay down in a hot bath. He was still conscious when Olga found him. The scars on his wrists still itch, sometimes. They tried hard to take away all importance from that event. Nobody knew it happened. Not even her parents, always ready to shove their nose in their business.

Much later, Davor Toth explained the rules of suicide to him.

- For starters, you have to pick the right way to kill yourself. Only depressed teenagers and pregnant girls slit their wrists anymore. That's beneath you. You're a warrior, and warriors kill themselves with guns. Pistol, rifle, grenade... Can you imagine a samurai drinking poison instead of cutting open his stomach? He'd bring dishonor to his family, eternal shame.

- But poison is less painful...

- Yeah... So? - that accountant from Daruvar was surprised.

He died a few years later. Kidney failure. From the pills, they say.

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